Blizzard memories and winter compassion

Between February 14 and 15, 1958, more than 14″ of snow fell in the Baltimore/Washington area. Temperatures dropped close to zero on the 16th. Power lines were down, and my sister and I were in the dark and cold with our father, who wasn’t used to taking taking care of us. But he did well and we all survived.

Mom was pregnant with my younger brother at the time and had gone into the city to visit her parents. We lived in Bel Air, Maryland, a little town northeast of Baltimore, in a cozy new redbrick ranch house in a shiny new subdivision. The blizzard caught everyone by surprise and overwhelmed the snow removal services. No one was going anywhere.

1958 Baltimore blizzard

I remember windblown snow piled higher than me against the windows of our house. I remember flashes of light at night as more powerlines fell. All we had for heat was a few cans of Sterno, so dad bundled us up in our snowsuits and mittens and the three of us sat around the dining room table and played games to pass the time. A transistor radio kept us informed about what was going on throughout the area and played music to lighten the mood.

Dad thought to give us a little brandy to keep us warmer, but we kids rejected it after a small taste. I seem to recall that it was several days before the snowplows cleared the roads in our community and power was restored. We weren’t frightened; on the contrary, it was an amazing experience for two young kids, and when it warmed up a bit we were only too happy to go out and play in the huge drifts.

Later that year, Dad had an emergency generator installed. Of course, we never again had a need for it.

The weather service is predicting a winter storm for our area Wednesday night and we’re always hopeful that we’ll get to see some significant snow accumulation. Many of my friends don’t understand my delight at seeing snow. I don’t think I understand it either, except that it’s quite beautiful to see the world transformed into a frozen whiteness, and it brings back good memories from childhood.

But it’s worth remembering that whatever joy snow nostalgia might bring, it also routinely brings suffering and death. People living on the streets must be able to find shelter from the cold, and thank God for organizations like the Salvation Army and so many lesser known groups who do what they can to get people warm and fed at such times. Thank God for the churches that open their doors to strangers. Thank God for government programs that provide food and financial assistance for those who have a difficult time paying for heat and gasoline.

I can get lost in the nostalgia of this season and forget what it was like for just a few short days to be cold and hungry and unable to escape the powerful storm that froze our little community. From the warmth of my home, I need to remember to ask God how he wants me to help the men and women and children who are at risk from this cold winter.

Make my heart sensitive to the suffering of others, Lord, and show me how to help them in their time of need.

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